Getting ‘off-the-beaten-track’ and visiting remote parts of the world can be a wonderfully eye-opening and enriching experience and this kind of tourism when run sustainably, can bring real benefits to local communities.
Community based eco-tourism or CBET projects are becoming increasingly popular and can be a great way to visit remote communities whilst contributing to sustainable development programmes that benefit the area. CBET’s can help deter activities like poaching by offering locals an alternative income working in tourism, often as guides, protecting the wildlife and environment that visitors want to see.
If you’re planning on visiting a remote community here are some tips to ensure that your stay has a positive impact and not a negative one.
Do your research
Ensure that the tribe or community you are visiting has offered an invitation to tourists. If you don’t know then don’t visit. Do some prior reading on the culture of the place you are visiting and either research a local tour company with a good track record or hire a guide from the local community who can pass on their knowledge of what is, or isn’t, appropriate during your visit.
Go locally and responsibly
Paying for the services of local guides and purchasing locally made items and foods will help to benefit the communities you visit. If you would rather visit a remote community as part of an organised tour then choose make sure you choose wisely. Use a responsible operator with a good track record and positive reviews who talk openly about the community you will be visiting and how they benefit from your trip.
Online resources like visit.org, giving way and Backpacker Bible can help you find responsible opportunities to visit or volunteer responsibly in remote communities.
Respecting cultural differences & dressing appropriately
Another reason to do your research is to avoid unwittingly causing offence. There may be particular cultural or religious sensitivities you should be aware of. For instance, are you in an area where it may be frowned upon to enter a building wearing shoes? Should your shoulders be covered?
It’s not just what you wear, you also need to consider your behaviour when visiting remote communities to avoid any disrespect on your part. For example are you in an area that doesn’t allow alcohol or perhaps doesn’t appreciate loud noises and raised voices?
Always ask permission before taking photos or videos of people in the local community. Don’t be offended if you are told no, some cultures may be distrusting of the camera and this is something that you have to respect.
Once you’ve taken a photo of someone then show them the image on your camera – this is the beauty of digital photography. If you’re just taking photos and moving on, you’re more likely to make people feel like an attraction.
The most basic form of sign language, a smile can almost instantly put people at ease and show your good intentions. Remember that you may appear as incredibly strange and alien to communities who don’t regularly see foreign visitors. Smiling and laughter is universal across cultures and societies and a smile immediately shows you have at least one thing in common.
Unless you are giving a gift specifically to say thank you for something we advise against giving out gifts like sweets and candy. Support the local community by purchasing handicrafts, using local guides or staying in a homestay. Tourists giving out gifts can set a dangerous precedent and encourage children to beg rather than go to school. Giving out candy might sound like a lovely idea, but whilst they may not normally have access to sweets they likely don’t have access to toothpaste either.
If you’ve visited some remote communities on your travels we’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments section below.